An Alternative Anti-Trafficking Action Plan: A Proposed Model Based on a Labor Approach to Trafficking

An Alternative Anti-Trafficking Action Plan: A Proposed Model Based on a Labor Approach to Trafficking

An Alternative Anti-Trafficking Action Plan: A Proposed Model Based on a Labor Approach to Trafficking

The TraffLab Alternative Anti-Trafficking Action Plan (hereinafter: the Alternative Plan) aims to offer an alternative vision of how to address human trafficking given the failure of the dominant anti-trafficking approach to address the structural, root-causes that cause, sustain and enable severe forms of labor market exploitation. Contemporary policies to combat human trafficking include criminal enforcement, restrictions on migration, and protection of human rights and assistance for identified trafficked persons. This approach addresses only the symptoms and does not alter the underlying causes of human trafficking.

In contrast, the approach underlying this Alternative Plan, known as the “labor approach” to human trafficking, seeks to address the economic, social and legal conditions that cause vulnerability and exposure to exploitation, and to narrow the power disparities between workers and those who benefit from their exploitation by strengthening the bargaining position of the workers and creating effective tools for workers and their representatives to transform and improve their working conditions.

In January 2019, the Office of the National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator in the Israeli Ministry of Justice published a new National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking 2019-2024 (hereinafter: the National Action Plan). The creation of a new national plan, the solutions it proposed, and its blind spots—the solutions and issues it failed to address—led us to write this Alternative Anti-Trafficking Action Plan, based on a labor approach to trafficking. In the following chapters, we* set forth concrete policy recommendations for addressing the structural issues that we believe are the root causes that underlie much of the phenomena of human trafficking in the contemporary Israeli labor market, and to which, we argue that the prevailing approach to human trafficking has failed to respond.

The Alternative Plan offers an ambitious vision and plan of action for a possible policy agenda, firmly based on the existing legal framework and the current situation in Israel yet seeking to offer a fresh perspective that aims to identify and recognize the forces driving human trafficking in Israel and the limitations of the solutions adopted thus far, and to propose alternative solutions for addressing them effectively.

∗ The authors of this Alternative Plan are researchers from different fields who form part of the TraffLab: Labor Perspective to Human Trafficking research group. The TraffLab project is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and led by Prof. Hila Shamir (Principal Investigator), Tel Aviv University.

The Alternative Plan consists of three parts: prevention, enforcement and partnerships, all of which reflect the need to address the underlying causes of trafficking and exploitation. The section focusing on prevention is the most comprehensive of the three, and the main aspects of prevention and structural change are also present in the other two parts. Each part contains several short chapters, each focusing on a different aspect of the migration regime and labor market regulation in Israel which is currently characterized by structural vulnerability to severe exploitation. Each chapter also proposes policy guidelines for change.


Chapter two addresses the role of migration and labor market policies in creating vulnerability to human trafficking. The chapter underscores the need to rethink the building blocks of these policies that create vulnerability to trafficking. This remains true even under the presumption that Israel’s migration policy is restrictive, based on the right of return, and designed to prevent migrant workers from settling in Israel. It calls for reshaping aspects of migration policy and ensuring periodic review of specific areas and their implications.

Chapter three addresses restrictions on mobility between employers—binding (‘kvila’), also known as tied visa arrangements—as a significant underlying cause of structural vulnerability to human trafficking. It emphasizes the need to enable workers to have easy and accessible labor market mobility and to completely and effectively eradicate arrangements binding workers to specific employers.

Chapter four focuses on high recruitment fees paid by migrant workers as part of their entry process and job placement in the Israeli labor market, as a factor in creating vulnerability to severe exploitation in the labor market that could amount to human trafficking. Working under debt impedes workers’ ability to leave exploitative employers or take action to change unsafe working conditions, thereby facilitating the exploitation of workers at the hands of their employers. The chapter proposes a series of legislative and regulatory amendments intended to lower recruitment fees and to protect and compensate workers who were forced to pay such fees.

Chapter five discusses bilateral labor agreements with countries of origin—the primary tool employed by the State of Israel to tackle the high recruitment fees that push workers into debt bondage. The chapter recognizes the efficacy of bilateral labor agreements as a solution to this problem. However, it also suggests that the agreements to which Israel is a party could go further by serving as potentially effective tools for safeguarding the rights of migrant workers and regulating additional transnational issues—reinforcing rights and strengthening enforcement mechanisms, enhancing the bargaining power of migrant workers and preventing human trafficking, as well as providing a secure mechanism for the transfer of remittances. The chapter highlights the need for transparency of bilateral labor agreements and the importance of including enforcement and dispute resolution mechanisms within them.

Chapter six discusses the role of intermediaries—recruitment and placement agencies in the agriculture, construction and care sectors. Reforms in the regulation of intermediaries under Israeli law had positioned them as key actors in the migratory process, with responsibility to enforce and implement components of Israel’s migration programs. This chapter presents the discrepancy between the alleged responsibility of these agencies to facilitate labor market mobility and protect workers’ rights and the system of distorted incentives that leads them to primarily serve the interests of employers. The chapter proposes fundamental and systematic reform to existing employment patterns, in a manner that addresses the inherent conflict of interests faced by placement agencies and eliminates their financial incentives to oversee or overlook worker exploitation. The chapter argues for changing the responsibilities and remuneration structures of intermediaries, while guaranteeing collective representation for migrant workers in these sectors.


Chapter seven discusses protective employment legislation as the cornerstone of protecting workers’ rights in general, and the rights of vulnerable workers in particular. Migrant workers currently suffer from de jure exclusion from some protective legislation, as well as from a de facto lack of enforcement of the rights they do have. The chapter proposes the application and enforcement of protective legislation as a central tool in the prevention of human trafficking. This would include, for example, revoking the requirement that care workers live in the homes of their employers and applying the Hours of Work and Rest Law to them; re-examining the residency and employment conditions for “volunteers” and “students” in work-study programs in agriculture; promoting workers’ rights enforcement mechanisms; allocating labor inspectorates with sufficient resources, and guiding them to strategically target sectors in which workers are particularly prone to exploitation; and guaranteeing equal access to the labor courts for non-Israeli workers.

Chapter eight identifies three major failings in the area of identification of victims of trafficking and enforcement of workers’ and migrants’ rights that require fundamental reform, namely: an inadequate identification mechanism for victims of trafficking, limited and ineffective enforcement of workers’ rights, and the almost complete absence of criminal prosecutions for offenses of slavery and forced labor. Changes to the identification and referral mechanism require clarification of the defining characteristics of slavery and forced labor and the evidentiary standard of proof required, institutional change in the approach of the entity responsible for identification, and an increase in proactive measures for victim identification. Reforms to the enforcement mechanism include establishment of a special investigative expert unit to deal with slavery and forced labor offenses, integrated and strategic enforcement in collaboration with other enforcement agencies and civil society actors, and the expanded use of administrative enforcement measures.


Chapter nine discusses the important role of family, community and social networks in protecting the rights and dignity of migrant workers. It identifies the connection between policies designed to prevent migrant workers from settling in Israel, limiting community and family life and access to support networks, and the creation of an environment in which severe forms of labor market exploitation thrive. The chapter proposes expanding the rights of migrants to family and community, including permitting migrants to form and maintain romantic and familial relationships after their arrival in Israel, granting migrants permission to remain in Israel with a work permit after giving birth, and removing barriers to family visits to enable maintaining family ties. Although such changes challenge the rationale of preventing long-term settlement, which lies at the heart of Israel’s labor migration policy, they would reduce the individualization and instrumental treatment of workers and play an integral role in protecting their humanity.

Chapter ten focuses on the role of organized labor and the potential of trade unions in Israel to improve the working conditions of vulnerable workers, including non-Israeli workers, and reduce vulnerability to trafficking. Trade unions around the world play an increasingly active role in preventing human trafficking through collective action—a trend that, so far, has not been replicated in Israel. Trade unions must develop inclusive collective action strategies, establish divisions dedicated to organizing migrant workers on both employer-based and sector-based levels with the aim of increasing the representation of migrant workers in sectors vulnerable to trafficking, reform workplace practices, and strengthen the enforcement of workers’ rights. The chapter further proposes establishment of a national council for labor migration that would bring together trade unions, employers, state representatives, civil society organizations and migrant organizations, and would serve as a forum for dialogue and consultation regarding changes to work migration programs Israel and Israel’s labor migration policy.

The final chapter addresses the role and responsibility of multinational corporations in battling severe forms of labor exploitation in their production and supply chains. There is growing recognition that corporations are often the primary beneficiaries of trafficking in their production and supply chains. Accordingly, attempts to address human trafficking that seek to tackle its structural causes must address corporate responsibility for the working conditions in their manufacturing and supply chains. The chapter proposes recognizing corporate responsibility in this field through establishing direct liability via the adoption of strengthened and adapted human rights due diligence legislation, while learning from existing models throughout the world and their shortcomings. The proposed model suggests recognizing torts and contract litigation claims by workers and by civil society organizations as well as state enforcement and sanctions. It further calls for requiring workers’ participation in the processes of shaping and enforcing the norms of corporate responsibility.

It is our hope that policymakers, researchers and the general public will find interest in the diverse range of policy proposals presented in this Alternative Plan, and that it will both facilitate a deeper understanding of the root causes of human trafficking in Israel and encourage a wider use of the rich toolbox at our disposal as a society to comprehensively address this phenomenon. Human trafficking is not an inevitable reality. While it is possible to effectively combat human trafficking, to do so requires a willingness to address the structural elements of Israel’s migration regime and labor market regulation. We hope that the State of Israel will choose to focus attention on these structural elements and address them through an effective policy to tackle human trafficking.

The English version of this plan reflects our understanding that while some issues and proposed solutions are unique to the Israeli context, many challenges are common to migrant receiving countries in the Global North, and some issues may also be relevant to countries in the Global South. Specific chapters of this plan may therefore assist practitioners, activists and scholars elsewhere. Moreover, we believe that proposing concrete alternatives to the dominant anti-trafficking policies is a crucial aspect of the labor approach, and other structural approaches that focus on the root of human trafficking in receiving countries. We offer this plan as a tool for scholars, activists and policymakers who may wish to take on similar endeavors in other contexts. We welcome requests for information and consultation about the process that led to this plan or the policy areas we focused on, or any other aspect that might be helpful for similar projects.

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